Mountain Wheels: Improved looks and new engine choice broaden Jeep Cherokee’s range
Coloradans certainly love their Jeeps, almost as much as their Subarus, and so I felt very much a part of the crowd as I spent a week cruising around in the 2019 Jeep Cherokee, which received a significant series of updates last year.
Cherokee should not be confused with the existing and somewhat larger Grand Cherokee or the older, boxier Jeep Cherokee many of us owned or grew up driving. Rather, this is the middle-of-the-pack, slightly upscale member of the extensive Jeep lineup with improved looks that give it a little more presence.
Probably the biggest change among the five-model lineup is a new 2.0-liter, inline-four-cylinder turbocharged engine as an optional offering. It’s rated at 270 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque, making mountain journeys a little easier.
Other engine choices include a 2.4-liter, inline-four or the older 3.2-liter, V-6, which was the powerplant for my test model, a Limited grade with optional blacked-out trim and wheels. It had a base price of $34,445 and was $41,620 with a full-cabin sunroof and a package of parking and driving safety aids.
Though the Cherokee is also given the Jeep off-roading seal of approval, with a four- or five-mode terrain response control, three available four-wheel drive systems and lots of room in the wheel arches for suspension articulation, my journeys were limited to Front Range highways, so those are the experiences I will address.
And to that end, the larger engine still demonstrated considerable acceleration lag, with some pronounced hesitancy except under absolutely full throttle. Once it kicks in, power is plentiful, but it sure takes its own sweet time — making me wonder how throttle control might work while attempting some steep gravel roads or digging oneself out of a snow-covered parking lot. My overall journeys produced 24.4 mpg, with 27 highway mpg on the window sticker. It’s also got a built-in stop-start function that was often jarring.
I can’t speak to the four-cylinder engine experience, though mileage of up to 31 mpg on the highway is promised — and I’m guessing you’ll also get a more fulsome uphill cruise.
Cherokee’s ride also reminded me of my previous adventures in the vehicle, which debuted in its present form in 2013. The 2019 model year updates are said to have included retuning of the suspension, but I still felt a lot of wobble and bounce in Cherokee’s driving dynamics. Highway-speed cornering was not very subtle, and steering still purposefully vague.
As we all know, however, Jeeps are largely purchased to join that legion of Jeep owners and their adventurous lifestyles, so maybe I’m being a little tough on the popular midsize SUV.
Here’s a fun fact: In a market full of domestic vehicles made up largely of foreign-manufactured components, Cherokee recently was picked as Cars.com’s No. 1 model on its American-Made Index.
Some 69% of Cherokee’s components (most importantly, the engine and transmission) come from the U.S. or Canada — America’s de facto automotive partner — and final assembly of the Jeep is done at Fiat Chrysler America’s plant in Belvidere, Illinois.
So for a modestly priced, fully domestic automobile, Cherokee is not so bad. The stylistic changes do indeed make it a more attractive vehicle, with a more Grand Cherokee-inspired front fascia and dimpled aluminum hood. LED headlamps, fog lamps and daytime running lights also brighten the looks.
Seating and interior space is a definite improvement from the smaller Compass and Renegade, though I found the optional leather seating just a bit too pillowy for my liking. Cabin details are nice, with aluminum-look door pulls and trim, some new glossy piano black and outlined chrome elsewhere. Wrangler-inspired instruments and a color mid-cluster display provide good details, and the upgraded Uconnect touchscreen navigation remains one of the better systems in the industry.
You will notice overly thick window A-pillars and very large B-pillars between the first and second rows, which somewhat limit visibility.
The full suite of safety aids were loaded into my Cherokee, which also include what are perhaps the loudest and most reactive blind-spot and parking-aid warning bells in the world (absolutely cacophonous when they all go off at the same time), plus slightly intrusive automatic lane-keeping aids.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Spoiler alert: There was almost no drama whatsoever during my recent test of the accomplished, practical and even vaguely sexy-looking Hyundai Sonata hybrid.